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May 16, 2017

Encounters in Johannesburg about love, work and China / The Rainbow Marimba

By Shi Wenjing.

Wenjing is a TV journalist and director at CGTN and was a participant in the Africa-China Reporting Project's African Journalism Workshop for Chinese Journalists in October 2016.  This post captures some of her reporting during the Workshop. 

Face #1
Charles Nkomo
Artist from Zimbabwe

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Charles Nkomo is a painting artist from Zimbabwe who has worked as an artist for the past 20 years. His paintings dwell on people from daily life and he gets inspiration from what he calls "African beauty". He has limited information about China except for its food, population, and the good shoes. And he thinks they are good people. To him, caring means love. His most daring dream is that the world can be peaceful.

Face #2
Butcher from Poland

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Victor is a butcher originally from Poland. As a worker in the food industry he is a fan of Chinese food, and he is especially amazed by the instant soups. He also knows Beijing and the 2008 Olympics. To him, Chinese people are hard-working, however, he said their buildings are a bit plain and not as colourful compared to those of South Africa.

When talking about Chinese products, he points to his bamboo cutting board, saying it was bought thirty years ago. He still uses this board everyday and says it feels like it was just bought yesterday. Being a resident in South Africa for nearly fifteen years, Victor still thinks the rainbow nation is a beautiful country. Everybody finds their own piece of it. Sometimes it might sound dangerous to others, but danger is "part of our life".

Face #3
Kobe Collins
Artisan from Kenya

Image by Shi Wenjing.

You cannot miss Kobe Collins because of the accessories he makes. A craftsman from Kenya, Kobe is a cheerful person. His dream is to be a happy man; to be happy and meet good people in his life.

When talking about far away China, he says we need to get closer to be able to tell if they are good or not. “At the end of the day, there’s no country that does not have a negative side. But we should not dwell on the negative side. Because being positive brings good energy to mankind.” When he said that, I wondered for a moment if he is actually a philosopher, not a craftsman.

Face #4
Sales person from Zimbabwe

Image by Shi Wenjing.

We’ve seen paintings on canvas, on cloth, on many other forms but rarely on excrement. Thanks to some artists, elephant excrement is becoming something special. Lindiwe and her husband is from Zimbabwe. They rove around to promote this new form of art.

The painting on the recycled elephant excrement is art in its very original form. It is delicate. Lindiwe has a secret dream that she prefers to keep to herself. Despite her constant travel to South Africa, she’s not going to stay here.

Face #5
Salesperson from South Africa

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Linkie is a sales lady of some wood designs. The reason she chooses to work here is because wood is something that comes from nature and she loves nature products. Wherever there’s a market, Linkie will bring her wooden crafts to explore all the markets.

When talking about China, Linkie smiles and said, "I’ve never been there. From movies, it seems like an interesting place. Whatever they do, they always connect with themselves, they have creativity, intelligence." The creativity and intelligence she mentions is something she wishes her people to learn from China. She says if she’d have a chance to go, she’d like to learn kungfu.

What impressed me a lot is when Linkie said she doesn’t have any Chinese friends yet. She saw many are coming to South Africa. She only saw them in her own country. There are things that she doesn’t understand. But she says she cannot judge. She wishes people could learn to appreciate the moment, to explore ourselves and always to fight for their rights. She thinks getting closer to informed opinions and trying to have solutions to end quarrels are important.

When we started our interview, Linkie rejected us because she said she was too shy. But once we won her trust we found a cheerful and kind spirit living inside of her. At the end of the conversation, she says she wants people to kick the door, get on the plane to fly to her country, a place where she says is peace, love and care.

Face #6
Uber driver from South Africa

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Isaac is an Uber driver in Johannesburg.  His favourite product from China is the clothes. His impression of average Chinese people are hard-working. And he is curious about the animals living in China.

One thing that puzzles him so much about China is "Why are Chinese so creative?" He is a man with careful observations, he mentioned the interesting spiral parking place in China that he saw on television.  And he thinks most Chinese people know how to do kungfu.

In his reflection on South Africa, he mentions Nelson Mandela. He says Mandela is a good man who made black and white whole. Now, South Africans are united.  Isaac didn’t have white friends before 1994 because he was not allowed to, but now he has many white friends.

He says he wants to have his own transport company one day. Logistics is his biggest interest. And of course he wants to visit China one day.

Face #7
Uber driver from South Africa

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Justice is an Uber driver. When talking about Chinese people, apart from their hard-working nature, says Justice, he is also amazed by how the Chinese respect each other. Living in a nation which is far away, he thinks his country can copy many things from China, from how they work to the development of a country.

Though news are biased sometimes, he says he doesn’t know any bad sides of China. He doesn’t have any Chinese friends. But as an Uber driver, he meets people. Sometimes they share stories during the ride. He says he is proud to be a member living in the rainbow country.

He also mentions something very philosophical: "If they do something they put all effort to win, that’s what I know about China."

The Rainbow Marimba

The sound of the Marimba easily catches your ears whenever you pass by. Some say that the roots of the marimba are ancient, tracing back to early human history, when we were striking stones, metal objects or wood.  A pleasant Sunday in Johannesburg can start with some melodious strikes on the Marimba. In particular, with a group of colourfully dressed young players. This group of teenagers are from a music band named SMYLe, shorted for Soweto Marimba Youth League.

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Not far from the public lawn where these teenagers perform, from time to time one man is standing there to cheer up the passersby. Michael is the man behind this music band which tries to unlock self-confidence and determination among the youth in Soweto.

Having lived in South Africa for the past eighteen years, Michael, who comes from Canada, has fit in well in the life of Joburg. He looked at the kids, and though that they are his special ones. And he’s really proud of them.

Image by Shi Wenjing.

Michael runs a business in sustainability consulting. He first came to South Africa when he was hired on a commission. He says he can’t just keep complaining about all the problems in this country, he wanted to make a difference. Making a difference means being part of the solution. Therefore, helping those teenagers in Soweto became his solution to making the country a better place to live.

Michael says that at schools in Soweto, those kids don’t get music lessons and have a very poor level of maths. Yet as if it was something that originates from their genes, these kids are amazingly good at music.  So once they were taught the Marimba, they loved it. But they cannot just play music without making progress on their studies. To help them improve their maths skill, he made a rule for the kids: They trade maths for music. To Michael, it still amazes him when he sees these kids knowing by heart more than a hundred songs. So he believes that they have the capacity to also learn maths better.

Apart from the basic curriculum, Michael also set up life coaching for these youth. He thinks there is something more important than knowledge. Life coaching to these young people is all about self-confidence. To learn that it is okay to fail is a central lesson. No-one will ever tell those kids about these facts of life. Moreover, he distributes report cards to identify their problems so as to guide them through them to solutions.

Put simply, Michael's mission is to teach those kids how to live. Music is merely a form to let them enjoy life more and at the same time to see the world. He has arranged some performances inside the country and abroad.  The standard of his selection is simple: Those who apply have to read two books and pass a test. He can always find nice tasks to trade with those kids.

These youths all come from Soweto. It is a very special area in South African history because of the Soweto Uprising in 1976 that caught the world’s attention. Part of the area today has become a famous tourist destination with Mandela’s former house, the Orlando towers, and the iconic iron house. But the rest of the area doesn’t seem as stunning as the tourist scenes.

Michael recalls a group tour they made a few years ago in Cape Town. It came out that one boy of the group had never had a proper shower in his life before. His skin tightened up and pealed. Most of the kids use a bucket to take their shower in Soweto. Despite Soweto's stunning appearance, it is unreal that 35 kilometres away there are people who still face problems of basic living conditions.

Michael says that those people he ran into in his business don’t live the average life in South Africa. The majority of the people still face social problems such as the lack of education, lack of jobs and even of nutrition. Michael relates to both circles in this split world which pushes him to be part of efforts towards improvements of the situation.

Fifteen-year-old Boitumelo Nkuatsana is one of the group who has benefited from Michael's help. The teenage girl hangs a big smile on her face. She writes poems. Boitumelo proposed to perform the poem she wrote. The moment she started her poem, the rest of the world suddenly became mute. You just feel the power of the land that belongs to the African continent, the original power she gets from the land that bred her.

No stumble, no forgotten lines, no awkward movements… every expression, from words to movements, by this African young lady is like a flow of water, so natural and so genuine.

When asked about her dream for the future, she said that she wants to become a nuclear scientist. Boitumelo says she is good at maths and physics thanks to Michael's help. She got the chance to see a bigger world.

With her special deep-seated calmness and determination, the young girl projects a bright vision from her eyes.

Image by Shi Wenjing.

I am an African

By Boitumelo Nkuatsana

I am an African

I am the roots of a big tree

With leaves so green and fruit so ripe

The air of breathing beings,

Shade to all living things

With a future so bright

I pride myself with commodities and minerals

I have gold, platinum, silver ,water ,soil you name them...

Lesotho, the land of King Moshoeshoe

With your beautiful mountains of Maluti

Quench our thirst

Water our plants and give life to our living beings.


Fa ke bua ka Botswana

Lefatshe le emisa ditshebe,

Batsofe ba ikgonya ditshoka

Botswana mmamoratwa wa Africa.

Lebelo le di abetswe ke mmupi

Diruiwa ke mmu le matlakala

Tshetsana le tshiname ke badisa

Bo rramereka ba supa ka menwana

Pula ga inne!!


With soil so beautiful and fertile

Feed our hungry stomach

With your big,bright yellow bananas

And your evergreen avocados not to mention

Your juicy grapes and mangos

Swaziland let us shine on your sunshine

As Africans we believe that no man is an island.

Remember South Africa in your time of struggle,give thanks to Lusaka

For keeping your brothers and sisters

Africans let us unite for united we stand and divided we fall

I am an African

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